Monday, September 29, 2003

Had a friend visit over the weekend bearing unexpected gifts - his fansubs of Hameln the Violinist, on VHS no less. It was like a visitation from the Ghost of Fandom Past. (We also watched my DVD of A Blackadder Christmas Carol, so I've got ghosts on the brain right now.)

Hameln the Violinist is a TV anime from 1996 (thank you, pedantic old-school fansubbers! They included copyright notices for both the show and the manga it was based on!). You'd think from that nugget of information that it would be well-animated, or at least slick. Well, you'd think that if you'd never heard of Hameln the Violinist, I guess. As an anime, it's the best PowerPoint presentation ever recorded to video. Half the time it's fleshed-out storyboards, the other time it's low-frame-count animation of the laziest sort. Hameln the Violinist is sort of the standard against which other under-animated shows have to live up to. Hammerman is worse, but only because it's so damn ugly. Say what you will about Hameln the Violinist, but it's got pretty individual cels. There's just not a hell of a lot of them.

There was a rumor a while back that one of the companies had gotten the license for this, but I now think it was a garbled version of someone (MediaBlasters, I think) licensing the half-hour movie, which is as totally unlike the TV anime as is possible while still retaining the main characters - comedy instead of grim high fantasy. It's definitely "Hameln the Violinist", not "The Violinist of Hamelin", as it's sometimes mis-translated. It's supposed to have that evocation, though.

It's your standard hidden-princess plot in a fantasy setting (demons hammering on the mystical gates of mankind, etc). Our heroes are magician-bards, using "magic music" to fight, show off, and attract constant attacks by the monsters. Our protagonist is your typical bishounen hero - glum prettyboy with an indeterminate dark past. The music is the key selling point of the show - they don't skimp on the audio, and the session players they use for the background music and the set-pieces really earn their keep.

It's not a particularly gentle show, either. People die like flies, and they die hard. Our hero, Hameln, re-animates the recently-deceased bodies of the princess's guard to fight the undead hordes in the second episode, and it's an honestly horrifying, disturbing moment - redeemed by an eloquent expression of the show's apparent theme. That theme is a rather complex notion, roughly "destiny is an unavoidable tragedy, or your life's culmination. Your choice."

More later, as I work through the rest of the series - I've seen these first four episodes before, but not the rest. The old VHS fansub world was like this - you ended up seeing the beginning of a lot of series, but very few endings.

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